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Vieux Lille © Maxime Dufour Photographies / O T Lille

A short break in
Lille

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Backstreet lunch, Lille, France © Maxime Dufour Photographies / O T LilleGrand Place, Lille, France © Laurent-Ghesquiere / O T Lille

Grand Place, Lille, France © Laurent-Ghesquiere / O T Lille


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So near, yet so different! Here’s a small French provincial city as vivacious, interesting and cultured as many a European capital - and less than an hour and a half from London. That’s how long it takes Eurostar trains, several times each day, to get from London St Pancras to Lille Europe. There’s nowhere closer, in journey time at least, for francophiles to get such a generous helping of Gallic joie de vivre, together with some leisurely sightseeing, stylish shopping and good eating - albeit with a Flemish flavour rather than typically French.


 Get the feel

The legacy of old Flanders can be seen everywhere. The large central squares provide areas of traffic-free relaxation beside elaborate Flemish Baroque buildings. Historic Vieux Lille’s atmospheric tangle of narrow cobbled lanes have been smartened up and lined with chic boutiques and fine food specialists.

 What, why, where

For decades Lille was blighted by heavy industry. The late-20th-century decline of its industrial base led not to poverty but to a revitalisation. A big change came in the 1990s with the start high-speed rail links with London.
  Today’s Lille, cleaned up and restored, has left its industrial past behind and become one of the most attractive and vibrant local capitals in France, packed with entertainment, art, shopping and restaurants. It's also an academic city, with 110,000 students.
  Geographically, historically and culturally Lille belonged to Flanders, but was often under French rule and has been part of France since the 17th century.
  Today Greater Lille or Lille Métropole is France's fourth largest city (population: 1.1 million).
The city's Flemish name is Rijsel. Lille natives have their own dialect, Ch'ti, and call themselves Ch’tis. The mix of French and Flemish cultures creates a unique, dynamic atmosphere.
City of Lille website

 Getting started

Lille tourist office is in Place Rihour, just off Grand' Place, a few minutes' walk from the Eurostar station.
www.lilletourism.com

City Pass (from the tourist office) gives free entry to 26 sites and attractions, and free travel on Lille's public transport (subway, bus, tramway). A one-day pass costs 25€, two days 35€, and three days 45€. The three-day pass also gives free travel on regional trains throughout the Nord-Pas de Calais region.
www.lilletourism.com/city-pass.html

 Compass points

Lille's central district is in the middle of a large conurbation. The focal point is a big main square, Grand’ Place. To the square's west, main shopping streets rue Neuve and rue Nationale, lead into the modern city centre. North of the square cobbled lanes lead into the old quarter, Vieux Lille

 Get the feel

The legacy of old Flanders can be seen everywhere. The large central squares provide areas of traffic-free relaxation beside elaborate Flemish Baroque buildings. Historic Vieux Lille’s atmospheric tangle of narrow cobbled lanes have been smartened up and lined with chic boutiques and fine food specialists.

 Getting around

Central Lille is small enough to get around on foot. But you'll need public transport to go to Wazemmes.

The Lille conurbation has a modern transport system run by Transpole, with 2 automatic metro lines (called the VAL), 2 tram lines, and 60 bus routes. Buses, trams and metros run every day from 5.30 am to around midnight.

Buses, trams and metros are free with City Pass. Or buy a Transpole Day Pass for 4€, or an Evening Pass for travel only after 7.00pm for 2€.
Otherwise, a standard (single) fare for the entire network is 1.50€. (Set of 10 tickets: 12.50€).
City Pass:
www.lilletourism.com/city-pass.html
Transpole: www.transpole.fr

V'Lille, Lille's city bike hire scheme, with 210 city centre 'stations' to pick up or drop off bikes, costs 1.60€ per day (only 3€ for a whole month). The first 30 mins of hire is free. Subsequent half-hours cost 1€.
V'Lille webpage

 Eat and drink in Lille

Appealing "estaminets" (brasseries) serve hearty Flemish fare such as mussels and chips, carbonnade flamande (beef cooked in beer), waterzooi (fish stew or chicken stew), and flamiche (tasty tart made with strong Maroilles cheese), all washed down with local beers.

Restaurants in Lille

’T Rijsel  Atmospheric old estaminet with pictures over all the walls and a big choice of local beers and traditional Flemish dishes.
www.estaminet-rijsel.fr


La Cave Aux Fioules Good Flemish fare and classic French dishes at very reasonable prices, in one of Old Lille’s most picturesque streets.
www.lacaveauxfioles.com

Patisserie Méert Elegant salon de thé with light savoury dishes, superb waffles, crepes and cakes.
www.meert.fr

 Hotels in Lille

The Lille Tourism website includes comprehensive Lille hotel information and offers commission-free online booking.
http://resa.lilletourism.com/les-hotels.html

Accommodation in Lille

De la Treille Modernised, comfortable and moderately priced. Smallish rooms but well placed for Vieux Lille.
www.hoteldelatreille.com

L’Hermitage Gantois Modern luxury and old-fashioned charm in a 14th-century former hospice in the city centre not far from the Fine Art Museum.
www.hotelhermitagegantois.com

Mercure Opéra  Good reliable comfort and service in an attractively restored building near Grand’ Place.
www.mercure.com/....

Lille Europe Across the road from the Eurostar station, and built into the Euralille shopping mall, this is a functional, convenient low-cost location.
www.hotel-lille-europe.com

Carlton Opulent, well-equipped modern four-star in the centre of town close to shops and sights, with its own restaurant and bar.
www.carltonlille.com

 Must-see

 The Central Squares 

At the heart of Lille, three attractive squares run into each other.
  Huge Grand' Place (or Place de Gaulle), where the modern Centre Ville meets Vieux Lille, is surrounded by fine Flemish architecture, notably the Ancienne Bourse, a lovely walk-through Renaissance gem with a fragrant little flower market in its courtyard.
  Place du Théâtre
is named for the wildly ornate Baroque Opéra. Beside it, a musical carillon chimes from the belfry on a lovely old brick and stone building now housing the Chamber of Commerce.

  
Place Rihour is dominated by a former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (now the tourist office).

 Vieux Lille 

T
he picturesque historic quarter is a treasure trove of taverns, brasseries and top-quality specialist stores selling luxury chocolates and delicate local lace. 700-year-old Hospice Comtesse is a fascinating former medieval hospital still with its chapel and patients’ ward with vaulted ceiling. Today  it's also an art museum devoted to the Flemish masters, with paintings, tapestries and sculpture.

 Palais des Beaux-Arts  

Lille’s imposing, well-named Palace of Fine Arts, one of France’s major art museums, displays fine collections of 15th-20th century European painting, sculpture, antiquities and beautiful ceramics.
www.pba-lille.fr

 Charles de Gaulle Museum 

Most renowned of the sons of Lille, President Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was leader of the wartime Free French forces and in every sense an imposing figure on Europe's post-War political stage. His birthplace and childhood home at 9 rue Princesse is preserved as a monument to the man and also as a fascinating relic of 19th-century bourgeois life.
www.maison-natale-de-gaulle.org

 Lille Métropole Museum of Modern Art (LaM)

At Villeneuve d’Ascq, 10km from Lille, this leading modern art museum, set in a sculpture park, displays work by Braque, Picasso, Léger, Miró and Modigliani and important contemporary artists.
www.musee-lam.fr

 Citadelle 

Lille’s star-shaped 17th-century fortress, enclosed by watery defences, helped protect France’s frontier after it seized part of Flanders. Still an army base, the interior can be visited every Sunday.

 Buy it

Lille makes a great shopping trip. These are the main places to shop.

Vieux Lille (the old quarter)
In the shopping lanes of this picturesque quarter you'll find cheese specialists, flower shops,  chocolatiers, artisan bakers and long-established Pâtisserie Méert, a heaven of cakes and chocolates (27 rue Esquermoise).

Euralille Centre
This multi-storey mall by Lille's Eurostar station has a hypermarket and scores of stores selling everything from fashions to food, kitchenware to kitsch, with heaps of French style.
www.euralille.com

Markets
Biggest and best of many markets is outside the city centre at Wazemmes every Sunday morning (smaller versions Tuesday and Thursday), with flowers, food, antiques, bric-a-brac and more.

Centre Ville (the modern town centre)
Here wider, straighter streets throng with locals, for chic fashions and top-quality shopping.

 In the Know

Don't tip taxis - it's included in the fare.
Fermé le lundi / mardi A lot of things are closed on Monday or Tuesday, including several museums and attractions.
Guided city tours  50-minute tours start hourly from the tourist office, free with City Pass.
You're in beer country Lille's bars have lots of traditional Flemish brews.

 Events and festivals

For a full list, see
www.lilletourism.com/tout-les-evenements-a-lille.html

Wazemmes l'Accordéon
23 May-4 Jun 2017
Head to Maison de Folie in Wazemmes to hear expert accordionistes perform everything from popular tunes to world music to modern compositions.
www.flonflons.eu


Clef de Soleil Music Festival
Jun - Aug 2017
(dates to be confirmed)
Classical concerts
in fine historic settings on summer evenings.
www.clefdesoleil.com

Grande Braderie de Lille
2
-3 Sep 2017 (to be confirmed)
(Sat afternoon to Sun night, 1st weekend in Sep)
A highlight of the Lille year, this gigantic second-hand market
filling the city centre is a cross between a jumble sale and a street party. Held for nine centuries, attracting as many as 2.5 millions visitors, in 2016 it was cancelled for the first time owing to fears of terrorist attack.
http://www.braderie-de-lille.fr/

Lille Christmas Market
Approx 21 Nov - 30 Dec 2017

Decorations fill the streets and squares, and a picturesque traditional Christmas Market in Place Rihour offers seasonal treats and gifts.

 Lille Basics

Where is it?
  In NW France near the Belgian border.
International phone dialling code:
  00 33 (+ drop initial 0 of phone number).
Time zone:
  GMT/BST + 1 hour.
Money:
  Euro (€).

 Getting to Lille

Eurostar - from London to Lille direct several times daily, journey time generally about 1h22m - 1h28m from London's St Pancras International station.

By road - autoroutes converge on Lille from every side, including A25 from Dunkerque (joins A16 from Calais) and A1 from Paris. Driving and parking in Lille can be difficult - better to use one of the 8 park-and-rides on the edge of the city.
Road approaches to Lille - Google map



 

 

 

 

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Lille
Updated January 2017.
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Pictures © courtesy Lille Office du Tourisme - mouse over pics for copyright details.
All rights reserved worldwide.
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